SPACE AS A CATALYST ON KOSUGI'S WORLD OF SOUND
By YAMAMOTO Atsuo, curator, Ashiya City Museum of Art and History

KOSUGI Takehisa's World of Sound: "New Summer" was held at the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History in the summer of 1996. During the course of the exhibition, a series of four of the artist's most important performances from the early sixties to the present was given in a wide-ranging retrospective that covered both Kosugi's installations and live work. Kosugi has been recognized throughout the world for his work as an exclusive musical member of Merce CUNNINGHAM's dance troupe as well as a multimedia artist. In the following article, YAMAMOTO Atsuo, who was responsible for planning the exhibition, discusses Kosugi's work and performances, and his relationship with the late MURAKAMI Saburo who passed away in January, presenting a seldom seen side of the artist.

The autonomous nature of modern art presupposes the architecture of the art museum. The latter was intended to be a square, neutral, standardized space that as a rule allows only for the exhibition of works that have passed through countless filters. What so often confirms this is the realization that the art museum is unable to accommodate the act of creation in the here and now; it is, in other words, unsuited to performance. And this helps explain why it is so difficult to feel at home in museums.

Organic Music Image
"Organic Music" (1962) Ashiya City Museum of Art & History
5/14/96


Fortunately, or unfortunately, as it was planned without the presence of a curator, it would be difficult to call the Ashiya Museum of Art and History a wholly standard example of art museum architecture. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to, half cynically, describe the mixture of curves and the frequent appearance of wall surfaces positioned at acute angles within the structure as being representative of the "bubble style." The exhibition spaces and storerooms present particular problems when compared to the exceptional vastness boasted by the breezeway in the hall.

While there are a number of halls throughout the country that though they are extolled as multi-purpose, are in fact no-purpose, it would be difficult to find another public space that was so unapologetically "no-purpose" from the very start. Yet, depending on how one looks at it, a non-standard space, while extremely difficult to use advantageously, does paradoxically possess the possibility of escaping from the trap of standardization. In the 1996 fiscal year exhibition schedule here at Ashiya, the abrupt appearance of two artists in rapid succession demands that one rethink the relationship between the art museum and performance: Murakami Saburo and Kosugi Takehisa. The reason solo exhibitions featuring these artists are being held back-to-back at the museum has its roots in the occurrence of the earthquake. But personally, I can't help remembering these words by SPINOZA, which Murakami was extremely fond of: "By thinking of chance as necessity, one discovers the true nature of reason." With Murakami and Kosugi, one would be hard-pressed to find any direct similarities in their backgrounds--for a start, they were brought up in different parts of the country: Kanto and Kansai respectively. But despite these differences, there was apparently a great deal of understanding about each other's activities between Murakami, who even among the members of the Gutai group possessed a particularly radical awareness of time and space, and Kosugi, who as a performer has continued to show an interest in completely improvisational performance.

Due to Murakami's sudden death in January, it became clear that no matter how it was organized the Murakami Saburo Exhibition would be completely void of performances. This, working as we were under the restrictions of time, was an extremely cruel problem to be faced with. In the end, we attempted to fill that void with the photographs and films of Murakami's performances that remain.

What was it exactly that attracted Kosugi to Murakami's work? Originally, Kosugi expressed his approval of the work that Murakami was doing in the seventies. As Gutai had already become an authorized movement by the end of the sixties, Murakami put in his resignation (although it was never accepted), and following the disbanding of the group began to work solo, concentrating mainly on performance works throughout the next decade. These were very conceptual, and at the same time, very personal works. He was completely indifferent to the documentation of his activities with photographs or other media. This was, as it were, the stance Murakami took against allowing his activities to become "works," and was also the attitude that first attracted Kosugi. I find the similarities between Murakami's awareness of these issues in the seventies and the issues that Kosugi has taken up in recent years especially intriguing.

In the 1996 fiscal year exhibition schedule here at Ashiya, the abrupt appearance of two artists in rapid succession demands that one rethink the relationship between the art museum and performance: Murakami Saburo and Kosugi Takehisa. The reason solo exhibitions featuring these artists are being held back-to-back at the museum has its roots in the occurrence of the earthquake. But personally, I can't help remembering these words by SPINOZA, which Murakami was extremely fond of: "By thinking of chance as necessity, one discovers the true nature of reason." With Murakami and Kosugi, one would be hard-pressed to find any direct similarities in their backgrounds--for a start, they were brought up in different parts of the country: Kanto and Kansai respectively. But despite these differences, there was apparently a great deal of understanding about each other's activities between Murakami, who even among the members of the Gutai group possessed a particularly radical awareness of time and space, and Kosugi, who as a performer has continued to show an interest in completely improvisational performance.

Before I go about exploring these parallels any further, I would like to define one of the words that is central to an understanding of Kosugi's music: "multimedia," or "mixed media." First, let's take a look at a quotation from the artist himself:

"Of course, to me the meaning of the word is different than what is currently meant by 'multimedia.' Rather than placing the focus on sound, what I'm trying to do is capture a more diverse side of the media and the varied state of the situation or setting that surrounds the sound. Electronically, this means everything from electromagnetic waves to sound waves, and ultra-low frequency waves even lower than sound waves. What I'm after is not merely sound, but the waves themselves. Sound waves are waves, light waves are waves, ultra-low frequency waves are waves, and electric waves are also waves. If the overall phenomenon of waves can be captured, I think one might be able to think of this as a comprehensive electronic art."
(Excerpted from the exhibition catalog.)

Along with sound, the actions or visuals that accompany Kosugi's performances play an extremely important part. In some of the early musical events, such as "Anima 1" (1961), in which he wound string around his entire body, and "Anima 2 (Chamber Music)" (1962), in which after getting inside a zippered bag he stuck parts of his body out, making sound was not the main objective. In the seventies, during improvisational performances with his group the Taj Mahal Travelers, films of ocean waves were often projected to create an environment. Sound was by no means subordinate to these visual elements, but was treated as an equal part of the event. Further, by establishing the concept of "waves" as an integration of catalysts such as "sound" and "light," Kosugi succeeded in establishing the originality of the music.
Anima2 Image
Anima2 (Chamber Music) 1962

To document Kosugi's performances here at the museum, a variety of media were considered, but in the end, video was settled on as the best. With photographs or sound recording, only one aspect of his performances would be captured, leading to a complete loss of the "multi" in Kosugi's music.

At the present time, the experience of listening, through the means of a medium such as the CD, which extracts only the sound of a performance, has become a predominant human experience. Yet Kosugi's music, in essence, works to refute this type of listening. And like the human race in its primitive stages or small children becoming aware of sound as music for the first time, it expands our perceptions. At first glance, Kosugi's music, which appears to be extremely avant-garde, could even be thought of as a means of touching some primitive part in our selves that dates back far beyond the invention of recording technology.

Mano-Dharma Image
Mano-Dharma, Electronic (1967)

Thus, it becomes clear that this aspect of Kosugi's work is essentially incompatible with what, during last year's "computer boom," has been hailed as "multimedia." And it becomes even more clear, when one considers Kosugi's conception of "the communication of discommunication," an issue that he has often dealt with in recent years.
"I am interested not in the things that until now have been stressed as pluses--the things that can be seen or heard--but their opposites --the things that cannot be seen or heard....Unless our perceptions are opened completely to these things, I don't think we will be able to reach a level of expression that could be called intermedia or multimedia in the real sense. In the computer world, people have started talking about multimedia now, but that should actually be the main point. Unless there is also an element of discommunication in the equation, there is only communication. The issue of perceiving information that is unseeable or unhearable is important, and without this element, it seems to me that the balance is destroyed."
(Excerpted from the exhibition catalog.)
I'd like to return now to the subject of Murakami Saburo, and explain a little about the type of performances he did. There was one, for example, where twenty wooden boxes were placed at various locations throughout the city of Osaka, collected at a predetermined time, stacked up neatly in a gallery, and gradually taken down. Or another, in which Murakami would simply stay in the hall where his solo exhibition was being held without saying a word, or shift the water in one bowl to another when a visitor came in. Of course with these performances we can only imagine the circumstances of the events from the photographs we have been left with. It seems as if, however, throwing out was half the act of expression to Murakami. Initially, there doesn't appear to be any great expulsion of effort going on in these performances, but the severity with which he is attempting to eliminate something, in every sense of the word, that underlies these actions should not be overlooked. Murakami's way of living, in his own words "the strength of laziness," seems in this way to be very close in spirit to Kosugi's "communication of discommunication."

Film & FilmImage
Film & Film #4 (1965)


At the core of Kosugi's awareness of this issue are his continual attempts to further develop his work. During the Ashiya exhibition, in addition to two installations newly created to fit the particular acoustic features of the museum's facilities, a series of four performances will be given. These will act as a kind of retrospective of the artist's representative works from the early sixties up to the present day. Yet, according to Kosugi's strong desire, the realization of the performance "Wireless" should be given particular attention, as it demonstrates how the artist's music has developed. This will not be a performance of an old work, but rather an extremely demanding new one that will be performed on Saturday, July 6 from 10am to 5pm (during the open hours of the museum) using a violin hooked up to a wireless system as well as other sound sources to be used as the situation demands. Besides constantly changing, this type of improvisational performance requires the utmost freedom. And in turn, cancels out all established and defined elements--it may even approach anti-music or anti-art.

Museums are sometimes said to be the graveyards where established art is buried. This museum can by no means claim to be completely free from structures, systems, or authority. But as I mentioned above, I believe this non-standard, no-purpose space does possess the capability of becoming a musical catalyst for the anonymous sounds that Kosugi intends to capture. And it is my great hope to see this happen with my own eyes.

GREETINGS SOUND CULTURE:
Ed Osborne
KOSUGI Takehisa essay NAKAGAWA Hiroshi GAMELAN EXPERIMENTS CARL STONE
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